Bell Prepared to Delay Internet Roll Out Amid Regulatory Uncertainty

Bell has indicated its steady progress towards achieving its fibre internet construction goals. However, looming regulatory uncertainties have cast a shadow over these advancements.

Mirko Bibic, CEO of BCE, expressed concerns about potential delays in 2024 due to these uncertainties. “If the decision isn’t favourable to Bell from a fibre perspective, or from a wholesale access perspective, you’re going to see us slow down the build as early as next year. It’s as simple as that,” Bibic stated during a conference call discussing the company’s Q3 earnings on Thursday.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is in the midst of a review, which focuses on the rates that smaller telecom competitors pay to major companies for network access.

Bell acquired independent ISP Distributel last year and the latter will soon shut down its wholesale internet operations.

The primary aim is to bolster competition and bring down consumer costs. However, Bibic has sounded a note of caution, warning that a decision favoring smaller telecoms could negatively impact the competitive landscape of Canada’s telecom sector.

“When we enter a community with fibre, we actually increase competition …the customer gets better service, better value, lower prices and that’s what’s being put at stake here,” Bibic added, according to The Financial Post.

Bibic’s concerns are not new. The CEO has been vocal in the past, criticizing the federal government and CRTC’s increased regulatory measures. He has described them as “interventionist.” This sentiment was echoed in June when BCE attributed the regulatory environment as a significant factor when announcing 1,300 job cuts.

On the financial front, Bell Canada’s Q3 report showed mixed results. The company reported a profit of $640 million or 70 cents per share, marking a decrease from $715 million or 78 cents per share from the previous year. However, there was a silver lining as the operating revenue saw a rise, moving to $6.08 billion from $6.02 billion year-over-year.

As 2024 approaches, Bibic highlighted Bell’s focus on the broader macroeconomic environment and the telecom industry’s competitive dynamics. One of Bell’s notable initiatives includes offering complimentary mobile SIM cards to international travelers on Air Canada flights. This move aligns with Canada’s immigration targets, which Bibic referenced during his remarks.

In Q3, Bell added 142,886 net postpaid mobile phone subscribers. While this marked a 14.8% decrease from the previous year, it still stands as the company’s second-best Q3 result since 2010. Lastly, the company’s wireless mobile phone average revenue per user was reported at $60.28, showing a slight decline of 11 cents from the previous year’s third quarter.

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